It all felt so depressingly familiar: Reactivating accounts on various apps. Setting up search parameters. Perusing profiles and photos. Flagging those with potential.

I experienced the same surge of emotion — hope (could this be the one?) — mixed with the dread and disappointment that comes with having been on the market for more than a decade.

I’m talking, of course, about the apartment rental market.

My situation: I have a great job teaching English in Eau Claire, Wis. Yet I’ve spent the past three years complaining about its dearth of Indian restaurants, not to mention the less-than-vibrant singles scene. So I decided to make the move to the Twin Cities. Yes, I’ll be spending almost three hours in my car on the days that I teach, but that’s what podcasts are for, right?

In both matters of the heart and housing, you never know what’s available until you start looking. Maybe you’ll stumble upon something (or someone) that surpasses expectations. Maybe you’ll find one that offers things you didn’t know you need — like built-in bathroom shelves or a willingness to give foot massages.

And the longer you’re on the market, the easier it becomes to identify deal-breakers (moldy carpet, face tattoos) and must-haves (dishwasher, sense of humor).

I worry about settling for acceptable when something better might still be out there.

Sure, there’s the possibility of getting lucky “the old-fashioned way,” with friends and family providing intel on recent vacancies and divorces. But for most of us, the web is our best bet.

Here are a few tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way:

If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

I looked at an Uptown apartment that was advertised on Craigslist as an “adorable” two-bedroom for only $900 a month. I knew there was a catch. One-bedrooms in that trendy ’hood start around $1,000. But curiosity got the better of me, and I set up a showing anyway.

Turns out, “adorable” was euphemistic for “claustrophobic.” The two bedrooms were sized like walk-in closets. Neither was big enough for a twin bed, let alone my queen.

This reminded me of a date that seemed really promising. The guy’s OkCupid profile was well-written and funny. His opening salvo demonstrated that he had actually read mine. We met up for a drink and started chatting.

Things were going well until he mentioned a roommate. “How well do you know each other?” I asked. He confessed that he still lived with his ex and had no plans to move. Also, they still hook up occasionally. “When we’re both trashed, ha-ha.”

Check, please.

Pictures matter

Appearances aren’t everything. But it’s natural to wonder, in the age of the selfie, why a landlord or prospective romantic partner would fail to provide photos. What are they hiding?

Misleading pictures are just as problematic: I showed up to look at an apartment in Payne-Phalen to discover that the pics online were from a different unit in the building, one that had been recently redone. The available apartment was not in great shape. Obviously I’d love to post pictures of myself from 10 years and 10 pounds ago, but it’s not an accurate representation of what I look like now.

Wanting to see pictures doesn’t make you shallow, it makes you smart. If you can’t imagine wanting to make out with the person, or being happy in a dumpster-facing basement apartment, it’s probably wise to move on.

Know your type

I was casually dating a man for two months, even though I suspected before our first date he was wrong for me. From his profile, I could tell that he partied a lot and liked to show off his wealth — he smoked Gauloises and fed his dog $20 hamburgers from a trendy gastropub. Meanwhile, I was working two jobs, don’t smoke and prefer cats. My hunch was right; we didn’t have much in common and it fizzled quickly.

Likewise, I occasionally find myself fascinated with those cookie-cutter apartment complexes in Oakdale and Woodbury. They’ve got amenities galore, like closed-circuit monitored parking garages, but I know my taste is a little more low-key, slightly rough around the edges but with character and charm. (Wait, are we still talking about apartments?)

Your gut is (almost) never wrong.

Sure, it’s a cliché, but you usually know immediately when you find a good match. It’s important to act quickly, or someone else will swoop in.

As for me, I lucked into a “cute” one-bedroom in St. Paul’s West 7th neighborhood. It’s a well-maintained building with only four units, on a quiet cul-de-sac close to St. Clair Park. Yes, it’s small (less than 500 square feet). But it comes with nice perks, including laundry in the basement, a remodeled kitchen and plentiful street parking.

Another perk? The landlord lives upstairs, and he happens to be attractive. Mid-30s, glasses, warm smile. I’m not sure if he’s single, but if he pops up in my Tinder feed (“Ted is 10 feet directly above you”), who knows, maybe I’ll swipe right.


Katie Vagnino is a poet, essayist and educator who teaches creative writing at the Loft and at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Learn more at


ABOUT 10,000 Takes: 10,000 Takes features first-person essays about life in the North Star State. Read more at